Thursday, March 17, 2005
Contemporary Researchers Find Mustard Is a ‘Miracle Drug’
By ROGER M. GRACE
Mustard is an ancient cure—and a modern one.
Researchers at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, reported in October, 2003 that they had found that dry mustard mixed into hamburger could kill E. coli bacteria. Mustard, it seems, is an “antimicrobial”—that is, it can destroy or at least impede the growth of microorganisms. Researchers recommended that home chefs form hamburger patties with 5-10 percent powdered mustard.
That addition apparently does not impair the taste. The report said:
“Sensory evaluation of the cooked ground beef showed that panelists could distinguish untreated control samples from mustard treatments, however, they still considered the mustard-treated meat to be acceptable even at the 10% level.”
Would the addition of mustard affect the labeling of burgers served in California eateries? Maybe. In California, hamburgers must be, with a few exceptions, pure meat. If there are additives—such as bread crumbs or egg—the patties are classed, under the Health and Safety Code, as “imitation hamburgers.” That demeaning designation could be avoided, however, if the added mustard were viewed as “seasoning.”
The Canadian researchers did not recommend use of prepared mustard. It seems that the constituent of the mustard powder that attacks the bacteria is allyl isothiocyanate. “Right now however, much of the prepared mustard available commercially...is processed to prevent the formation of allyl isothiocyanate,” members of the research team said.
Similar findings were reported in a slightly earlier study in the United States. As Knight-Ridder News Service reported in March, 1999:
“Both horseradish and mustard oil contain the pungent chemical allyl isothiocyanate, which can help fight off listeria, E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus and other food pathogens, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and Oklahoma State University researchers.”
How revolutionary is the use of mustard to assure the purity of meat? There is evidence that in ancient times, the Chinese, Greeks and Roman used mustard to protect meats from turning rancid.
It could be that Chinese dry mustard is more efficacious than Colman’s version in combating E. coli. Mustard flour bearing such brand names as Dynasty is derived from black mustard seeds, while the Colman product is the ground innards of both black and white seeds. Writing in the Canadian Chemical News in November, 1997, research scientist W. Cui spelled out that only black and brown mustard seeds “release a volatile compound, allyl isothiocyanate”—pinpointed in the 2003 Canadian study as the bacteria-destroyer.
Cui noted that allyl isothiocyanate has been shown to inhibit “the growth of yeast when added to fruit juices at a concentration of 1%,” commenting: “This may explain why the Romans used mustard oil to prevent fermentation of fruit juices or finished wines.”
The author pointed to signs that mustard possesses anticarcinogenic properties—a prospect I’ll discuss next week.
Last July, results of a study were announced showing that frying foods in mustard oil lowers the risk of heart attacks by 71 percent. Also, diets that include green leafy vegetables splashed with mustard oil can help lower the chances of a heart attack, researchers found.
The study was conducted at eight hospitals in India by researchers, some of whom were from the Harvard University’s School of Public Health.
The efficacy of mustard oil in protecting against heart attacks was attributed to its abundance of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Hmmm. I wish I had known that before deposited a full bottle of mustard oil in a trash can.
My wife and I stopped at a mid-eastern market a few years ago and bought a bottle of mustard oil, intending to try frying with it. But when we got home, we spotted a warning on the label that had earlier eluded us. The content was not safe for internal use.
Not having an oil lamp in which the substance might have utility, we tossed the bottle away.
In checking the Internet, I gather that the warning on the label did not reflect the unfitness of mustard oil for human consumption, per se. Rather, it was reaction to a rash of deaths and severe illnesses in 1998, including cases of blindness, stemming from consumption in India of contaminated mustard oil.
The Courier Journal in Florence, Alabama reported last year that a man in Tennessee has obtained a patent on a mustard-based bee sting remedy that stops the pain from stings in a matter of seconds.
That’s interesting, particularly because the Greek scientist Pythagoras used mustard in the Sixth Century BC to treat scorpion stings.
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